I have been working in the field of church revitalization and renewal for almost twenty years now and I wanted to share in this edition of the Church Revitalizer blog about some of the nasty things which happen to the leader of a church’s renewal effort. Wise Church Revitalizers, while not liking some of the things which will come their way, should be ready for some of the big ones which often precede the turnaround of a plateaued church. It was John Maxwell, which taught me some thirty years ago a great principle of leadership and it is never more important to remember than as one who is working in the realm of church revitalization and renewal. John told many of us way back then:
“People will let you down, but Jesus Christ will never let you down!”
I have reflected upon this wise statement many times while in the midst of the challenge of the moment. The reality is that there are some nasty things that are thrown at leaders of renewal as they seek to turnaround a church.
For every Church Revitalizer which is part of our monthly Virtual Coaching Network, I spend time discussing the following challenges in revitalization and renewal in an attempt to assist them in a smoother transition when they encounter these trials. This is the second in a series of blogs focused around “The Nasty Punches That Come Your Way in Church Revitalization and Renewal!”
18. Internal warfare has reduced many local congregations to a stagnant, status quo existence.
It is crucial to understand the background of our battles in an effort to later describe both results and resolution. A church, much like an individual, tends to take on certain personality and character traits with the passage of time. The mere thought that someone would dare tamper with comfortable customs is deemed heretical. Many worshipers today are feeling increasingly threatened by subtle and sometimes sudden changes that are taking place.
19. An authority vacuum will inevitably produce misunderstandings and confusion.
If there is no paid staff person, choir director, or clearly designated leader, various factions will form contentious coalitions. Not everyone who wants to have a public music ministry has a good heart and pure motives. Some are doubtless driven by carnal desires to be seen and heard. In church after church, I meet pastors who feel under attack by both Satan and the saints. Much of the persecution in the pulpit today is pitiful, petty, senseless and silly. Conflict can arise over personality characterizations. There is also much persecution in the pulpit concerning the preacher’s wife. Rarely does the pastor’s family measure up to the great expectation of the church. The average church member wants a pastor who can preach like their hero on TV and who will stay in his church of 150 people for 30 years while never expecting a raise!
20. Our reactions to the sins of Christian brothers and sisters can sometimes lead to blunders that are worse than the original failure.
Christians will fail. It is our reaction to failure that will determine the relative peace or pugnacity in the church. It is more than obvious that many congregations have decided to respond to the believer’s deficiency in an exaggerated, unscriptural manner. For sowing seeds of mishandled discipline, we have reaped congregations in conflict. Passion for power among preachers and laity has created an atmosphere for anarchy. Churches today are driven by dark, hidden, carnal forces into innumerable and unnecessary conflicts. The desire for domination in the congregation is often fueled by the failure to be in control at home or in the work place. Success can also lead to the abuse of power.
21. Many parishioners are simply at peace with the present.
The very notion of change is repulsive to them. Like so many other things, to nurture the flock or to evangelize, is not an either/or proposition. Both emphases are scriptural and indispensable in a healthy church. Our bend toward the “pendulum complex” tends to sway us from one extreme to the other. But we must have indoctrination along with increase. It is most definitely a both/and scenario. We are absolutely, undeniably called to love one another in the midst of our differences. Conflict, of whatever kind, must be conquered by the grace and power of God.
23. The combative church risks losing its plausibility among young people.
That which is plausible is “something that seems valid or likely reliable.” And young people are carefully looking for evidence to validate the reliability of the Christian faith. Most believers will not put up with petty church disputes for any length of time. If they sense that a pattern for aggression has been established, they will soon be on their way. The congregation that is continually in conflict implies that they have problems even the Lord Himself cannot solve.
Remember, as a church revitalizer, you are the guy in charge of staying cool when everybody else is freaking out! That is a big part of a church revitalization persona. Put on your emotional Teflon if you are the leader who wants to bring about change within a congregation. You must put it on daily if you desire to revitalize your church. Having the ability to cover you in emotional Teflon is a must. You must let the ugly stuff slide right off of you without changing your demeanor, the way you feel about yourself, or the way you respond to these anxious folks who are acting childishly. The church must know it is dying before it can be revived. Most churches in need of revitalization are in denial. Far too many wait too long to get moving! The only place to start is at the beginning. Ground work for revitalization is not much fun. Preparing the soil and pulling the weeds is the most difficult and demanding work for renewal. Do not allow yourself to take any short cuts because there aren’t any! Understanding your church is the beginning of the journey and not the end.